How fitting is it that the Blues would face the Sharks in the first round? As some of you may recall the last time the Blues had a season near this magnitude, they were swept out of the first round by; you guessed it, the Sharks. However, these aren’t the same teams from 1999-2000, it isn’t even the same game as it was back then.
The “new Blues” have built a successful season off of strong team defense, trophy worthy goaltending, and shared team offense, all of which can be credited to new Coach Ken Hitchcock. You won’t find any household names on the Blues yet, but after this season, there won’t be a hockey fan who doesn’t know the name Brian Elliott or Alex Pietrangelo. But we’re in the playoffs now, unfamiliar territory for the bulk of this young team and for some skeptics that’s enough to run for the hills. Not for this guy however, here is what I think the Blues bring to the table.
With only the team’s Captain David Backes and left winger David Perron eclipsing the 20 goal marker this year, it’s been about team scoring. Nine Blues players ended the year scoring 10 or more goals, with forwards TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund on the 20 goal doorstep with 19. What this means for the Sharks going into the playoffs is, the Blues will be rolling out 3 lines of potentially potent scoring which is tough for any team to contain. What this means for the Blues is, keep on the pedal and don’t let up.
They key to the postseason success offensively for the Blues, will be the veteran’s Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenburnner, and journeyman center Scott Nichol. The Blues acquired all three of these playoff hardened forwards in the offseason in hopes that come to playoff time; they can show this group of youngsters how to win. Arnott and Langenbrunner have both played for Hitchcock in the playoffs before and know what’s expected from each player, let’s hope that message is conveyed.
A lot of the major success for the Blues this season came from their defensive core. Players like Norris Trophy candidate Alex Pietrangelo, young offensive minded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, stay at home shutdown defenseman Barrett Jackman, and powerful defenseman Roman Polak all play a huge part in the chemical makeup of this Blues defense, a defense that allowed only 165 goals against for an entire season.
The mystery here is how will Hitchcock pair up these versatile and yet different defensemen? We know that game one will see Kent Huskins paired with Pietrangelo, but what of the others? Polak spent the better part of the season alongside Kris Russell and Jackman and Shattenkirk were basically attached at the hip. It’s no mystery that San Jose has big names in Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture to shut down, so however Hitchcock pairs them, they will all have their work cut out for them.
Up until today the question on everyone’s mind was, which goaltender is going to start game one. Coach Ken Hitchcock announced today that Jaroslav Halak would get the start on Thursday night between the pipes. We all remember his playoff exploits from the 2009-2010 playoffs when he carried the 8th seed Montreal Canadiens all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, but even Halak himself has said these are different circumstances.
The most crucial thing here for the William Jennings Trophy winning tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott is staying sharp. They spent the majority of the regular season sharing starts and it paid off for the Blues as they ended the regular season with a league best average of 1.89 goals allowed per game. If both of these goaltenders can stay on top of their game, San Jose will need to throw everything including the kitchen sink at these two, and that might not even be enough.
This series will be a proving ground for the St. Louis Blues as although the Sharks may have not yet won a cup of their own, they very seldom exit the playoffs in the first round. If the Blues can consistently play the “200ft. game” and keep San Jose on their heels with solid forechecking and stellar defensive play, I think the Blues will take this series in 5.